But Lowland distillers must have disliked the English,
because most Lowland distilleries were founded
close to the northern border of the region - which
puts them as far away from England as they could
possibly get without actually becoming Highlanders.
How low can you go? When it comes to Scotch whisky
not lower than the Anglo-Scottish border between
Scotland and England. It runs from the Solway Firth
on the west coast to Marshall Meadows Bay on the
east coast - or the other way around if you prefer...
This roughly resembles the line that Roman emperor
Hadrian chose to build his wall around 122 AD.
That puts most Lowland malt whisky distilleries closer to that other
ancient Roman border: the Antonine Wall (est. +/- 150 AD) than
to Hadrian’s Wall (between present day Scotland and England).
Bladnoch was mothballed again later, but by that time others were ready to take its place.
The majority of Lowland distilleries was founded along the line
between Glasgow and Edinburgh (i.e. from Dundee to Greenock)
and by the early 1990s there were only two active distilleries
remaining in the Lowlands - Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie.
Fortunately, Raymond Armstrong revived the Bladnoch distillery
during the late 1990s, so that was a step in the right direction.
Most of the Lowland malt whiskies listed at the left were produced at distilleries that
closed quite some time ago - and some of these Lowland whiskies didn’t even get a
distillery of their own. For example, Glen Flagler and Killyloch were made in two pairs
of pot stills within the ‘Moffat’ grain whisky distillery complex east of Glasgow.
In fact, most of the grain whisky in Scotland is produced in the Lowlands.
And things are looking up for malt whisky too. When William Grant & Sons opened
their massive Ailsa Bay malt whisky ‘distillery’ in 2008 they doubled the Lowland malt
whisky production in one fell swoop. (The Ailsa Bay ‘distillery’ is mostly a building with
16 pot stills within the even more massive ‘Girvan’ grain whisky complex near Ayr.)
On the other end of the Lowland spectrum there’s Daftmill - near the Midlands.
Even though Daftmill started production on a very small scale in 2005, they still hadn’t
officially released any malt whisky a decade later. Owner Francis Cuthbert figured that
“the less we produce the more exclusive our product will be.” Smart thinking...
Most names on the list above are those of silent distilleries (i.e. whisky distilleries that were closed or mothballed),
but many distilleries are being developed in Scotland at the moment. We may see more fresh distilleries soon...
For example: Inverleven is a Lowland malt,
while the Inchmurrin distillery (located only a
few miles to the north) is officially a Midlands
(= Southern Highlands) Scotch malt whisky.
The same goes for Glengoyne and Littlemill.
Some people might argue that the Daftmill
distillery is located in the Southern Highlands,
just like its closest neighbours Glenturret
and Tullibardine. To those people I would say:
stop arguing - these borders were arbitrary
to begin with and their meaning is diminishing.
As such, the traditional whisky regions are
more interesting for visitors to Scotland than
for the people enjoying Scotland’s whiskies.
During the 1990s Michael Jackson and other whisky
writers made a big deal about the fact that the Lowland
malt whiskies were supposedly triple distilled - as
opposed to the double distillation that is traditionally
used in the other whisky regions in Scotland.
When the idea of the five Scotch malt whisky regions became popular in the 1990s, it seemed sensible.
However, it already painted a lopsided picture of Scotland. More than 90% of all remaining malt whisky distilleries
were located in the Highlands and Speyside regions. Meanwhile, the Lowlands and Campeltown regions had only
five active distilleries between them. At the time, the small island of Islay had more malt whisky distilleries than
both regions combined. One of the traditional ‘regional traits’ of the Lowlands supposedly was the fact that they
used of triple distillation for their whisky, but perhaps we should have a closer look at that claim...
At the same time, experiments have been done in other regions.
For example, they have made a quadruple distilled whisky at the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay.
At Springbank (in the Campbeltown region) they have been using a “two and a half times” distillation technique
for decades while it is unclear if their ‘Hazelburn’ brand was distilled 2,5 or 3 times. And the list goes on and on.
I’ve heard rumours about “more than two times” distillation at Benriach, Benrinnes and Mortlach in the past.
And when Bladnoch was revived a few years later,
the percentage of active Lowland whisky distilleries
still using the triple distillation method dropped
to just 33%. Now that we have Ailsa Bay, it’s just 25%.
And please keep in mind that this is mostly a debate for
‘anoraks’. Nowadays around 99% of all Scotch malt whisky
is double distilled - and perhaps that’s just as well...
After all, the main reason that malt whiskies are generally
held in higher regard than grain whiskies is the fact that malt
whiskies have much more character than grain whiskies.
And that character comes mostly from the ‘impurities’ which
are distilled away in consecutive distillation runs.
Generally speaking, the more often a spirit is distilled, the
more elements are removed, leaving just alcohol and water.
Arguably, those elements give a drink its character. It's easy
to distinguish a grappa from a cognac and a whisky from a calvados. If these liquors would be distilled more often, they
would start to resemble each other much more closely.
In the end, you would end up with (almost) pure alcohol.
It will get you drunk just as quickly as whisky or cognac,
but the bouquet and taste don't provide a lot of pleasure.
Besides, there's already a product with these traits: vodka.
There's no need to invent the wheel twice, is there?
The Lowlands are also known as 'a' Ghalldachd' - which means 'non-Gaelic region'.
In whisky terms, the region includes traditional Scottish counties like Ayrshire, Berwickshire, Dumfriesshire,
East Lothian, Mid-Lothian, West Lothian, Fife and Wigtownshire. In a broader sense, many Scots consider
anything that is NOT in the Highlands as part of the Lowlands. But by that definition, Shetland and Orkney would
be classified as belonging to the Lowlands as well. So, that broader classification won’t work for whisky...
During my formative years I wasn’t particulary fond of Lowland malts,
but during the early noughties I had a few very good experiences
with young Bladnochs and older expressions from Saint Magdalene
(also known as Linlithgow) and Rosebank.
Based on my experiences since then, I’ve become convinced that the
cask in which the whisky has matured is even more important for a
Lowland malt than for other Scotch malt whiskies - even if the whisky
wasn’t triple distilled. Even the distilleries that use double distillation
produce a light, clean spirit with the emphasis on grainy notes.
However, the malt whisky has changed a lot in a few decades.
On MM I usually don't cover whiskies that were bottled before +/- 1975.
There's a good reason for that (at least I'd like to think so); bottles from
distilleries that were closed before the mid 1970s are either laughably
expensive or simply impossible to find. So, I've purposefully neglected
to mention some long gone Lowland distilleries on this page;
Auchtermuchty (closed 1926)
Auchtertool (closed 1927)
Bankier (closed 1928)
Kirkliston (closed 1920)
Langholm (closed 1917)
Loch Katrine (closed 1920)
Provanmill (closed 1929)
Saucel (destroyed 1915)
The Saucel distillery was destroyed by a fire, but most others were closed.
In virtually all cases, those Lowland distilleries shut their doors during the ‘roaring’ 1920s.
While other people were enjoying rag time music and dancing the charleston, many Scotch malt whisky distilleries
were closed down - even before the ‘Wall Street Crash’ of 1929. This was part of a worldwide economic depression
that lasted until the 2nd World War. So, the whisky crisis of the 1980s wasn't the first crisis in the whisky world.